THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT, DEPARTING CHIEF OF STAFF ERSKINE BOWLES, AND INCOMING CHIEF OF STAFF JOHN PODESTA
The Rose Garden
11:52 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you and good morning. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much for coming here for this important and happy announcement. For six years, I have worked hard to prepare our nation for the new century. We have changed America for the better. There is more opportunity, more citizen responsibility, a stronger American community. We are a stronger force for freedom and prosperity and for peace. In a few moments, I will return to the Wye Conference Center to continue our work on this Middle East peace process.
In all the work that has been done here in this house in the last six years, the White House staff has played a pivotal, indeed, irreplaceable role. For the past two years, I have been blessed to have as my Chief of Staff a gifted manager and an inspiring leader, the world's best negotiator and a great personal friend.
When Erskine took this position in 1996, I asked him to finish the job of balancing the budget. More than any other single individual, he was responsible for the agreement last year that just a few weeks ago wiped the red ink from the books here in Washington. He also cares passionately about education and led our negotiating team to impressive victories last week on behalf of our schools and our children. He fought hard to protect the surplus until we save Social Security. And as I said the other day, if you look at the last few days, he certainly knows how to stage an exit. (Laughter.)
He also cares deeply about uniting the American people. He poured his heart into our race initiative. And throughout, he has worked hard to mold a streamlined White House staff into a genuine team.
Erskine has made it plain how much longer he has stayed here than he intended to or wanted to. (Laughter.) At the end of the month, he is going home to North Carolina. I'm only pleased that I was able to persuade him to stay this long. I know he still has a lot to give his state and his country, and I hope he has the opportunity to do so in the future.
To follow his leadership, I have chosen someone who is both a strong manager and a skilled policy-maker. With a sharp mind, a strong, strong sense of courage, and a giving heart, John Podesta has those qualities. And I am honored to name him today as the next White House Chief of Staff. (Applause.)
We're delighted to have his family here and his many friends. I think it's important to point out for the record just how superbly qualified he is for this job. He used to be the Chief Counsel to the Senate Agriculture Committee, which is, in itself, unusual. That means that for the first time in years and years, there will actually be two people who work in the White House and know something about agriculture. (Applause.)
He has been a law professor. He has been an advisor to a generation of lawmakers. He has been at the heart of public policy and public life for a long time now. He has helped to guide our foreign, defense, and economic policy; served as a key liaison to Congress, most recently representing me as a leader in the budget negotiating team that delivered this balanced budget that invests so much in education.
Also, with the singular exception of the Vice President, he is the most technologically proficient of our administration, guiding our technology policy on many fronts. He has another great qualification for this job -- he is a better Hearts player than Erskine Bowles. (Laughter.)
He knows how the White House works. This will be his third assignment here in the White House. But even more importantly, he knows why the White House ought to work and for whom every single one of us does work. He entered public service for the right reasons, and he has certainly stayed there for the right reasons.
As many of you know, he and his family have a taste for riding roller-coasters. That will certainly serve him well here. (Laughter.) He is brilliant, he has a tough hide, a dry wit, a lot of patience in dealing with the President, hard-won wisdom, and a genuine compassion for improving this nation. He will lead a seasoned White House team, working with Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste and their colleagues, working every day for the American people.
They have a lot of work to do. I would remind you that while we have balanced the budget, set aside for the time being the record surplus, invested again in education, we know that if we do not act to save Social Security and do so soon, we will be running the risk that our retirement system will be in serious trouble as the baby boomers retire. We do have an opportunity to act to strengthen Social Security for the new century; the next Congress will be called upon to do just that.
There are other important challenges as well -- strengthening our economy at this time of global economic turmoil; passing the patients' bill of rights; expanding opportunity through an increase in the minimum wage; passing our initiative to modernize our schools. None of this could be done without a strong and dedicated administration, and at the heart of our actions here, the White House staff.
So let me again say to my wonderful friend, Erskine Bowles, and to his successor, John Podesta, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Mr. Bowles. (Applause.)
MR. BOWLES: Mr. President, I have waited a long time for this day. (Laughter.) But, seriously, your words truly did touch my heart. I want to take today to thank you for the honor you have given me to serve my country as your Chief of Staff.
As all of you well know, especially you all that are here today, coming back to Washington was never on my dream sheet of things I wanted to do. At the same time, I'm the first to admit that this job has given me a chance to do things that I never dreamed possible.
As I said almost two years ago to the day, when I first took this job, public service has been a way of life for my family for a long, long time. My older brother, my sisters, and I have done our dead-level best to live up to our Dad's good advice to add to the community woodpile.
Mr. President, I cannot imagine another job where I will have a greater opportunity to do more for my country, to do more to add to the community woodpile, than the job you have given me to serve as your Chief of Staff. Mr. President, because of your energy, your vision, and your foresight, and because of your hard work and that of your dedicated, loyal and hard-working staff, today nearly 17 million Americans have jobs -- jobs they didn't have just six years ago. Five million more kids have the opportunity to have health insurance coverage.
Every child in America now has the chance to go on to at least two years of college. Our cities, our towns, our rivers and lakes are the cleanest they've been in years. And our streets are the safest they've been in decades. And, yes, our country's financial strength, at long last, has been restored, keeping the American Dream alive for our children and grandchildren.
Mr. President, you gave to me and to the rest of our team a chance to make this vision a reality. You have challenged us and inspired us. I have been and remain in absolute awe of your vision and your intellect, of your genuine warmth and concern for others. You have assembled an extraordinary team, a team with sharp minds and not sharp elbows -- a team dedicated to responsibility, opportunity and, yes, community.
Mr. President, you have chosen someone to lead the team in the days ahead that I both admire and respect. In John Podesta, you have chosen wisely. John's hard work, drive, energy, and good sense will serve you well. I could not be leaving you in better hands, my friend. Thank you for allowing me to serve. (Applause.)
MR. PODESTA: Thank you, Mr. President. Erskine, why are you smiling so much? (Laughter.) It has been my great honor to be a member of this team,
and I feel especially honored today that the President has asked me to serve as his new Chief of Staff. During my years here at the White House, I have been lucky to work with three great chiefs of staff: Mack McLarty, Leon Panetta, and, of course, Erskine Bowles.
I could have not asked for a better leader than Erskine, which was so evident during the past couple of weeks. As Erskine and I trooped back and forth to Capitol Hill during the budget negotiations, we may have seemed like an unlikely pair -- Bowles from North Carolina, Podesta from Chicago -- Bowles, blue blood; Podesta, blue collar. (Laughter.) No one ever got confused about which one of us had a passion for golf -- (laughter) -- and which one of us had a passion for amusement parks. (Laughter.) But devotion to country and dedication to the goals of this President are things I know we share.
Erskine, you set a standard of excellence at this White House, and I hope that I can live up to it.
Working in the White House is as high an honor as anyone involved in public service can achieve. Working here means a great deal to me, and so does working for a President who makes every day count when it comes to solving problems for average people and making life better for all Americans.
The staff's job is to make sure that the President has the resources, the policy support and the opportunity to put his ideas and energy to work for the American people, and to do so with efficiency, integrity, and respect for the American people and the Office of the President. The staff people gathered here to serve President Clinton deeply believe in those values, and we will honor them as we serve him over the next two years.
In every single year of this administration, there has been significant legislative achievement. The next two years will be marked by even more achievement because we have so very much to do. The President is committed to saving Social Security, maintaining our hard-won fiscal responsibility, reforming and strengthening our public schools so they work better for our children, passing a patients' bill of rights, strengthening America's leadership in the global economy, and securing the peace in troubled areas around the world.
I strongly believe that we must make progress on every single one of these issues. Working with the Republicans and Democrats in Congress and with the support of the people, I know that we can.
I'm grateful to be joined here today by my wife, one of our three children, and my mother and brother. Every day, they remind me how fortunate I am to have come so far, and how blessed how I am to be able to give something back to our great country. You see I know what it meant for my grandparents to struggle to come to America at the turn of the century, and then to struggle again to survive here, speaking only broken English. I know that my father had to quit high school after one year to help support his family. And I know that every day he worked hard on a factory floor, always believing in the American Dream that his children would be better off than he was.
I know what it really means to work for the minimum wage and to count your raises in cents and not dollars. I know the difference a good public school can make in a person's life and that government financial aid can be the difference between getting to college and getting left behind. And I know what it means for an older person to rely on Social Security and Medicare for their well-being.
I know that our values -- work and responsibility, the desire to pass on a better world to our children -- are shaped by our families, but that opportunity for families can be shaped by smart, sensible government. That is why I am so profoundly grateful to the President for giving me this chance to serve our country in this hallowed place.
Finally, let me say a few words to my colleagues on the White House staff. Together, Erskine and I, along with Sylvia Mathews and Maria Echaveste, challenged a hard-working White House staff to work even harder to make your best work even better. And you did. I cannot tell you how proud I am of the people we have been fortunate enough to lead. You have exceeded every expectation.
I will be calling upon you again and again over the next two years. And as we say around here every Friday, "Only two more working days till Monday." (Laughter.) We're going to help the President make every one of those days count.
Let me again thank the President and the Vice President for this opportunity. I want to thank the members of the Cabinet who are here today. And now I think it's time for us to get back to work. (Laughter and applause.)
END 12:08 P.M. EDT